Remembering Shyama Dasi
Posted September 1, 2004
Shyama dasi, a most stellar God-sister, was statuesque, kind, quick to laugh, and quick to be grave. She was poised at the Columbus Temple where I first met her, and poised at the often muddy New Vrindavana farm during the following years.
When we met in March of 1970, she was pregnant with Samba. I used to see her after lunch, alone, carefully bowing down to make a personal offering of cottage cheese and such--reciting prayers and then sitting back up to chant Gayatri in stillness.
She was a fabulous cook, and Sunday feasts in Columbus were marked by her perfect Fancy Rice and Samosas. She cooked puris and carefully instructed me in rolling them very thin and even. Later on, she taught me how to make chapatis from start to finish, saying "Be sure to toast them at the end" as she turned them over and over.
Her appearance was always artistic and coordinated. She sewed special borders on the skirt part of her American-cloth saris, adding weight and neatness; sometimes it was just an elegant edge on the upper, over-the-head section. She kept the altar decorated, and her own attic rooms were always in order.
Shyama dasi had wonderful large japa beads, and I can picture her chanting with seriousness.
Sometimes she'd reflect on time spent in San Francisco with Srila Prabhupada, telling of an occasion when she was upset and went to see him. But before she could speak, he asked, "Is everything all right?" Finding herself actually immediately happy and overwhelmed with relief, she had answered, "Oh, yes, Srila Prabhupada!" She told this story several times, clearly delighted at how wonderful he had made her feel. And it was clear to anyone listening that the charm of the exchange only grew for her with passing time.
She cleaned the Temple--sometimes doing an overhaul to the sink/boots/laundry room at the old farmhouse, exclaiming "Someone might say we're poor, but they'll say we're very clean!"
One day she came in the farmhouse kitchen and announced, "The mind can rest in the sound vibration of Krishna!" She had read this in the Gita's Introduction and relayed it to us with great enthusiasm and conviction, repeating it a second time so we could all absorb it.
Shyama dasi shared Prabhupada with me, and as I would come to spend only a
large group-settings with him, her gift also grows for me with passing time.
Now in her passing on, as kindly noted by Radhanatha Swami, I thank Krishna
for the opportunity I had to observe her devotional service. I thank Srila
Prabhupada for inspiring her so deeply, and I thank her for the fine example
of femininity, expertise, and confidence in the practice of Krishna
consciousness that she gave.